Rant gets murder defendant booted from courtroom

LANCE BENZEL Updated: March 13, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: March 13, 2013

A judge on Wednesday entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of a Colorado Springs man accused in the slaying of an 87-year-old woman whose body was set on fire at a popular trailhead.

The move came after 21-year-old Marcus Smith refused to enter a plea and was forcibly removed from a 4th Judicial District courtroom amid an obscenity-laced rant.

Smith — who insulted a judge, kicked an unoccupied chair and tried to fire his attorney — is scheduled to face trial on Aug. 5.

A convicted burglar, Smith is charged with first-degree murder and other counts in the November 2011 killing of Katherine “Kit” Grazioli. The case against him has been repeatedly delayed by questions over his mental health, fueled in part by his repeated courtroom outbursts.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Barbara L. Hughes ruled this month that he is competent to stand trial, though she sealed a 13-page order explaining her analysis.

During Wednesday’s arraignment, the defendant interrupted the proceedings with bizarre proclamations and demands to be released.

“I’m assigned to God and you all are wrong,” Smith said during the chaotic hearing. The defendant appeared in a light blue jail jumpsuit — an indication he is being held in a special ward — and he again wore a mesh hood meant to keep him from spitting. Writing covered much of his left arm, though it was too small to be deciphered from the gallery.

Smith’s parents watched in silence as he ignored the judge’s demands to be quiet. At one point, lead prosecutor Margaret Vellar snapped “Excuse me!” in an effort to shush the defendant.

Hughes ordered that Smith be removed after he kicked Vellar’s unoccupied chair while she stood addressing the judge.

One of Smith’s attorneys, Edward Farry, told the court he was unable to enter a plea on Smith’s behalf.

“What I’m telling the court is that the defendant refuses to enter a plea to the charges against him,” he said. “The defense does not claim we have a basis for ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’”

Mental health experts have offered divergent opinions in court over the cause of Smith’s behavior.

At a January hearing to determine if Smith is capable of understanding his court proceedings, defense experts testified he is exhibiting signs of increasingly delusional thinking, while a psychologist for the Colorado State Mental Health Institute in Pueblo cited reports that Smith tends to exaggerate his symptoms when he is being watched.

Grazioli, who lived alone in a gated community near Fort Carson, was strangled in her bedroom by an intruder who drove her body to the Captain Jack’s trailhead on Gold Camp Road, where it was found ablaze.

Colorado Springs police say they found Smith’s fingerprints on Grazioli’s bedroom window and car door.

The defendant had her credit cards in his pockets and stashed other stolen possessions in his parents’ basement, police said.

Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel

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